Georgia grower-shippers plan to begin harvesting traditional Southern vegetables such as bell peppers, cucumbers and squash earlier than normal for the spring season.

Shippers say they hope prices strengthen as the deals transition from Florida to south Georgia.

Grower-shippers are looking to a stronger-than-normal bell pepper market leading into Georgia.

Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc. plans to begin harvesting in late May, as normal.

“Pepper is short now and the market is strong out of Florida,” Adam Lytch, operations manager, said in mid-April.

“Demand exceeds supply. There’s not enough pepper coming out of Florida anytime soon to hurt the deal before it gets to Georgia.”

Lytch said L&M, which grows and ships from south Florida, plans to begin its north Florida pepper harvest in early May.

He said central Florida likely won’t have enough supply to affect prices.

In late April, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported 1 1/9-bushel cartons of green jumbo and extra large bell peppers from Florida selling for $20-20.85 and large for $18-18.85, with medium at $16.35-18.35.

That’s higher than last season in late April when the USDA reported $12.85 for jumbos and extra-large and $10.85-$12.85 for large from Florida districts.

South Georgia Produce Inc., Lake Park, Ga., expects to begin its bell pepper harvest mid- to late May toward the first of June, said Shannon Vickers, salesman and quality control manager for Manwell Produce Inc., Valdosta, Ga., which markets for South Georgia Produce.

Vickers said early spring prices from south Florida are low.

“For the last three to four weeks, it has been a fairly cheap market,” he said in mid-April.

“There was some $12-14 pepper in early March, but we haven’t seen that in a while,” he said.

“Everyone has a flush of product. The heat has really brought everything on early.”

Harry Sheaffer, vice president of Fresh Link Consolidation LLC, Lake Park, sales agent for Coggins Farm and Produce Inc., said prices were depressed over the winter but improved in late spring.

“We have a tight market,” he said in mid-April.

“South Florida wound up a little early and there wasn’t a lot going in Plant City (Fla.). Usually, there’s not a whole lot of volume in Plant City,” he said. “The market should be snug until Georgia comes into play.”

Jon Schwalls, director of operations for Southern Valley Fruit & Vegetable Inc., Norman Park, Ga., said conditions appeared favorable for a late April start, a month earlier than normal.

“They all look really good,” he said in mid-April.

“I would say they are better this year and better than we have had in the last several years. This should be the best crop I’ve seen in several years.”

Georgia growers normally harvest through early to mid-July.

A tighter supply of the larger cucumbers during early spring could make for better markets when the deal moves from Florida to Georgia, said Sheaffer.

“South Florida has been kind of tight on the No. 1s and a little looser on the off-grades,” Sheaffer said in late April.

“They’re finishing up quicker down there and moving more toward the middle (central Florida). We will see consistent quality (in Georgia) as long as the weather permits,” he said.

“The market will be in a reasonable shape, maybe a little tight through our start. It should be a good deal for everyone.”

South Georgia Produce plans to start harvesting its cucumbers in early to mid-May, earlier than normal, Vickers said.

Vickers said Georgia’s fall deal went well. He said it ended a little quicker than most growers wanted.

The USDA in late April reported 1 1/9-bushel cartons of cucumbers from Florida selling for $16.35-18.35 for waxed mediums. That’s similar to last season.

“I think the market’s average now,” he said in mid-April. “They have had a real warm winter down there in south Florida. No one has been knocked out of the game. There are plenty of cucumbers around.”

L&M plans to begin its harvesting in early May, ahead of its normal mid-May start, Lytch said.

He said the heat is bringing the cucumbers on fast.

“The offshore deal recently wrapped up,” he said in mid-April.

“Price and demand are fair. The Florida crops are not tremendous. There was a lot of wind this spring in Florida, which really affected the cucumbers. We have blown through a lot of acres and are not getting a tremendous yield for what we normally do,” he said.

“Quality has been good but there’s not a lot of yield. The market hasn’t really responded to that lack of yield.”

Lytch quoted $16 for supers and $8 for selects.

This season’s squash harvesting began in mid- to late April, about a week earlier than usual.

Northampton Growers Produce Sales Inc., Cheriton, Va., which grows and ships from Florida, Georgia and other East Coast regions, started production in late April.

“They look very good,” Calvert Cullen, president, said in mid-April.

“The weather has been favorable. I think we will have good supplies and because of the good growing conditions, quality will be excellent.”

Cullen called yellow squash demand strong but said zucchinis, experiencing heavier production, are seeing decreased demand.

He and Fresh Link’s Sheaffer quoted $10-12 for yellow and $6-8 for zucchinis.

Nate Branch, director of purchasing for Southern Valley, said sunshine and temperate weather are making for a strong squash crop.

“It’s amazing how fast they’re grown,” he said in mid-April.

“We haven’t had much wind. That will cut down on scarring. That has played a tremendous role in moving into spring.”

J&S Produce Inc., Mount Vernon, Ga., started April 20 with some of its smaller growers and planned for its larger growers to begin harvesting in mid-May.

Joey Johnson, president, said he expects strong volume to begin in mid-May.

“We are excited about our season,” Johnson said in mid-April.

“Everything is ahead of schedule. It’s warm but we have had rain when we needed it. It has been a really good spring. We’ve had excellent growing conditions so far.”

Sheaffer said Coggins began squash harvesting in late April, on time.

He said quality looks good.

“It’s going to be consistent,” Sheaffer said in late April. “We should see a consistent supply from start to finish,” he said.

“There won’t be quite as much volume up here as usual. That may strengthen it from where it is now.”

The USDA in late April reported these prices for all Florida districts: half- and 5/9-bushel cartons and crates of zucchini small, $6.35-7.35, medium, $4.35-6.35; 1/2-bushel cartons and crates of yellow straightneck small, $10.35-10.85, medium, $8.35-8.85; 3/4-bushel cartons and crates of yellow crookneck, small, $14.35-16.35 and medium, $10-10.85.

Persistent low winter and spring markets greeted the beginning of Georgia’s cabbage deal.

“The market has been horrendous since the day it started in Florida,” Lytch said in late April.

“It’s been cheap all winter but picked up a little from the bottom during the past few weeks. It never really got off the ground all winter long.”

Saying prices were strengthening a little, Lytch quoted $8 in late April. He said overproduction in all regions contributed to the lower than normal markets.

The USDA in late April reported 1 7/8-bushel cartons of green cabbage medium from south Georgia selling for $7-7.50 with large at $6.

L&M began its Georgia harvesting in mid-April with volume expected to increase in early May, Lytch said.

Lytch said Florida and Georgia normally experience a 10-day to two-week overlap in late May.

Because of a smaller Georgia supply, however, this year may not see an overlap, he said.

Northampton began its harvesting in mid-April, a week earlier than last year, Cullen said.

“Everything looks great,” Cullen said in mid-April. “The weather has been favorable for cabbage growth.”

Cullen said Georgia should harvest through June 10, overlapping with North Carolina, which normally begins May 20-25.

He said that overlap may not be as big a factor this year as higher freight costs make the Carolina deal more competitive to Eastern buyers.

Georgia normally finishes its cabbage by mid-June.